Talking about the present

These notes cover the following tenses in English grammar:

  • Present simple
  • Present continuous
  • Present perfect simple
  • Present perfect continuous

Present Simple

Form

The construction of this tense is shown in the table below.

Present Simple

I

you

we

they

look

do not look (don't look)

he

she

it

looks

does not look (doesn't look)

Meanings

In general terms, the Present Simple is used to describe permanent and repeated events or actions. So, facts, habits and routines are often expressed using this tense.

Fact: Lions live in Africa .

Habit: My brother bites his nails.

Routine: I go to work at 8:00 every day.

With routines we often add adverbs of frequency like always, often, now and again, every week, every year and so forth.

Other meanings

We can find a common use of the Present Simple to talk about temporary, unfinished actions in sports commentaries where the speaker, in the heat of a game, will often say things like:

Agassi serves deep and Ferrero returns across court and moves quickly to the net. Agassi's backhand goes down the line...

In a similar vein, we often fall back on this tense to create a sense of immediacy when we are describing past actions or telling jokes and anecdotes - this is usually only found in informal speech:

Anyway, this guy comes up to me last Saturday and says "I know you from somewhere, don't I?" and I reply "I don't think so" and he looks surprised.

Note also that we can use will to refer to regularly repeated actions

Every evening my father will finish his dinner and then go off to the lounge where he'll sit in front of the TV for hours watching anything that comes on.

Present Continuous

Form

This tense is made by using the present tense forms of the verb be, which needs to change according to the subject of the sentence, and the present participle (verb + ing). This tense is sometimes called the Present Progressive by some grammars and course books.

Present Continuous

I

am ('m)

am not ('m not)

looking

you

we

they

are ('re)

are not (aren't)

he

she

it

is ('s)

is not (isn't)

Meanings

  1. We use this tense mainly to refer to temporary events and actions which have begun but are not yet completed.
    He's washing the dishes at the moment.
    I'm doing my homework.
  2. We can also refer to intermittent actions that happen occasionally.
    She's having lunch at work this week.
    I'm catching the late train tonight.
  3. We can use the Present Continuous with a small number of verbs which describe changes and developments (for example grow, expand, increase, become, decline) to describe on-going events such as in a sentence like this:
    The world temperature is increasing. His standard of living is declining.
  4. Although we normally prefer the Present Simple tense to refer to habits and routines, there are times when we can use the Present Continuous especially if we want to show irritation with a repeated action. This is nearly always found with particular time expressions such as, constantly, forever, always and continually.
    He's always turning up late!
    You're forever complaining about something!
  5. There are many occasions when native speakers resort to using the Present Continuous tense to show the temporariness of a feeling.
    He's feeling unwell.
    You're just being silly!
    Are you meaning to stay until after midnight?
    She's thinking what to do.

Present Perfect Simple

Form

We form the Present Perfect Simple with has or have (again depending on the subject of the sentence) and the past participle of the main verb (e.g. walked, gone, lived, known). Most past participles end in -ed, but there are some irregular verbs, two of which are included in the examples above.

Present Perfect Simple

I

you

we

they

have ('ve)

have not (haven't)

looked

he

she

it

has ('s)

has not (hasn't)

Meanings

We use this tense when we want to refer to an action or event that began in the past and has duration up to and including the present time. In these cases we often indicate how long the action has lasted by using for or since with a time expression. We use for with a length of time, whereas we use since with a point of time. For example:

  • We've lived in London for seventeen years.
  • I've eaten in that restaurant since I arrived here.

In both instances the action began at a time in the past and is still true at the time of speaking. However, we need to compare these uses of the Present Perfect Simple with the Present Perfect Continuous which we will look at next.

Present Perfect Continuous

Form

As with any continuous tense we need the verb be and the present participle. Only this time, because we are dealing with a Perfect tense we also need the verb have somewhere in the equation. So, the order of these elements is: has/have + been + present participle.

Present Perfect Continuous

I

You

we

they

have been ('ve been)

have not been (haven't been)

looking

he

she

it

has been ('s been)

has not been (hasn't been)

Meanings

When we are referring to the present time, the Present Perfect Continuous is used to talk about actions that started in the past and are continuing up to the time of speaking and often need a time phrase with either for or since.

  • We've been seeing each other for a few months now.
  • My mother's been going to yoga since she was 25.

We tend to prefer the Present Perfect Continuous in contrast to the Present Perfect if the action is not short-term or if it is repeated frequently.

  • We've been living in London for seventeen years.
  • I've been eating in that restaurant since I arrived here.

In the first example I want to stress the length of my stay in London and the fact that I do not see it as a short-term activity; it is, therefore, likely to continue for some time into the future. In the second example I am trying to emphasise the repetition of the activity.


 

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